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Viewing wildlife safely: photography, tracking, and identification

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Viewing wildlife safely: photography, tracking, and identification

Viewing wildlife and animal tracks safely, getting the most out of your experience, including purchasing backpacks, hiking boots, clothing, and field identification guides.
Viewing wildlife in its natural habitat can be easier to do if a few simple rules are followed... quiet, look, listen, and do not touch! Safety is an important issue, and we are going to look at ways to be safe when participating in this wonderful hobby.

Maps
Know where you are going. This sounds simple enough, but you would be surprised at how many people just take a drive into the countryside, park their vehicle, and walk into the woods. While many may return unharmed, many more become lost. Planning, deciding on a destination, and getting a map of the area to familiarize yourself with where you will be going, are the first steps to be taken. Many county maps will also point out areas of interest and places specifically for viewing wildlife. Going out into the ?wild' is not necessary to view wildlife even. Many state and counties offer marked trails to follow. These are an excellent way to try out this hobby.
Clothing and Footwear
Dress appropriately. A sturdy pair of hiking boots is a priority. Make sure they fit properly, as a pair of ill fitting boots can be a danger in itself. They should also be waterproof, as this will help keep feet warm if you end up out longer than intended. Even morning dew can soak feet, and wet feet equal cold feet. Dress in layers. Outdoor temperatures can vary drastically nearly everywhere, summer, fall, winter and spring. The hottest day of summer in a southern state can be followed by freezing temperatures overnight. While you may not plan on being out overnight, always be prepared ahead. Always plan for the unexpected when dealing with nature.
Backpacks
A backpack is a necessity for even a short excursion. You should try on a backpack for fit. Wider straps are always a good bet. This will help distribute the weight evenly. Check stitching, make sure it has been constructed well. A backpack that falls apart right away will do you no good. Make sure it is comfortable and has enough room for the basic supplies that should be carried with you. Always pack a basic first aid kit, water, map, compass, (know how to use the compass), bug spray, and a pair of binoculars or viewing glasses.

Never Approach Wildlife
Remember that you are out in the wild to ?view' nature. Never approach an animal, no matter how cute it is. Never presume that a baby animal has been abandoned and needs your help. Mother is most likely not far away, and in truth, baby animals are the most dangerous to view, as their parent can be quite aggressive if they feel you are endangering their young. While large animals instantly come to mind, this rule applies to even the smallest. For example, a mother turkey will chase, attacking with claws and beak, if she feels you are too close to her chicks. While you may not find this dangerous, believe me, it is quite scary when you are the one being chased. You also risk losing your sense of direction and becoming lost is most hazardous.
Extras
A ?field identification' guide is a good investment. These come in everything from full sized volumes to pocket sized guides. These are available for everything from mammals to fish, birds, particular regions, states, etc. One I have found to be particularly helpful is a guide to animal tracks. Many times while out viewing wildlife, the most I have encountered is the animal's footprints. This handy little book allows me to ?see' what animal has just walked where I am now standing.
A journal of where you have went and what wildlife you viewed or tracks seen, is a good way to enjoy your hobby even after getting back home. This can be as simple as a spiral notebook.
Finally
Always leave nature the way you found it, if anything, cleaner. Take your garbage out with you. If you encounter trash along the way, be a good friend to the wildlife you are viewing and pick up the trash. Remember, viewing wildlife is a privilege, help take care of nature so the generation after us can also participate in this wonderful hobby!
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